If you are going to plan your own philosophy enquiries then it is important that you make sure that your question truly is a philosophical one.
It may be worth noting here, however, that some questions for this age group do not necessarily need to be truly philosophical. Firstly because you may be focussing on building a specific skill in a session and so it may be easier to do this with less philosophical questions. Secondly because a 3-5 year old has an entirely different view on the world, and a different bank of knowledge, to a 10 year old. For example, you could not use the question “What are clouds made of?” or “Are scary things always bad?” for a philosophical enquiry for 10 year olds. They would pretty quickly be able to Google you an answer to the first question and say “no”, possibly accompanied by a scathing look, to the second. But to a 4 year old those questions are philosophical ones.
When it comes to Philosophy for Children (as opposed to actual philosophy in the adult world) whether a question is philosophical or not depends entirely on your audience so don’t worry too much about whether the questions you choose are truly philosophical and instead base it on your knowledge of the children in your class. Some of the questions I have enjoyed using are not truly philosophical, in other words we could say that there is an exact answer that does not need debate, however for a young child who does not know much about the world it is a philosophical question.
That said it is good practice for you as a facilitator to begin to identify what a philosophical question is so here is a quick guide.
A quest is a long and arduous search for something, it is a late Middle English word from the Old French queste (noun)/ quester (verb), based on Latin quaerere which meant ‘ask, seek’. Most commonly used as a word for an epic adventure or in a ‘quest for knowledge.’ What better word to describe a philosophical journey? So, I created the QUESTS model to take my class on an epic philosophical journey each week and, even better, do it within the 15 minutes window of time that a 3-5 year old is often able to maintain attention and excitement for an adult led activity. So here is the overview of a QUESTS.
This is the starting post of your quest. What do you want to know today? First remind the children of your community guidelines and 4Cs (see Lesson 1 and 2). If you have a prop, like Philosophy Frog, then have the toy pose the question of the day. Make this your big concept question. Don’t worry you can drill down later. See the lesson plans in this book to give you some ideas. See if anyone wants to try an answer to the question straight away.
e.g. Are teddies real?
Give some more depth to the question. Explain why you are asking. For example it might be a question that you are wondering about because of a book you have just read aloud or something that happened in class. An example of this might be “I asked if teddies are real. What I mean is, do they come alive when no-one is watching?”
Get the children to vote on the question. For this question the answer will be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You may have children who say they don’t know. Try to press them for an opinion but if you are getting nowhere then don’t be afraid to add a ‘I’m not ready to decide yet’ option. Methods of voting could be hands up, holding a picture up or anything you can think of. Personally I find that voting with feet works best i.e. go to this side of the room if you think… and that side of you think… I have tried this with Key Workers but the risk is that children will just go to their own Key Worker or the person they like best instead of making a decision. When voting with feet it is often easy to spot the children who copy their friends or the children who are unsure what they think.
Once children have chosen their side ask a couple of children from each side to explain why they chose that way. After the voting get everyone to sit back down in the group. It may help to keep children roughly in their group so that you can see who changes their mind as the enquiry goes on.
Now that the group is sitting down again remind them of the initial question. Invite everyone to share their ideas. As you see opportunities introduce new facts or questions. Encourage children to agree or disagree with each other and build on each other’s ideas (however be mindful that this isn’t something that you are likely to see until children are confident philosophisers). In this example a new facts and question might be ‘I thought that our teddy did come alive at night but Mr … said I have never actually seen it happen so it can’t be true. Is he right?”
Carry on with the enquiry until you feel it has run its natural course.
Thank everyone for their input and involvement. You may want, at this point, to highlight children who did particularly well or showed progress in their abilities since your last enquiry. Try to link your thanks to your community guidelines or the 4Cs. I have found that a nice way to do this when first starting out is to have two hula hoops in different colours. Select children who have spoken to hold onto one hoop and children who haven’t to hold onto the other. Say “well done to everyone holding the blue hoop. You were critical and creative because you gave answers and thoughts today” “well done to the children holding the red hoop. You were caring and followed our guideline to listen nicely to your friends when they spoke. You all made a decision when you voted too.”
Skills (and Concepts)
The skills you would like to encourage today and the concepts and key words you might come across during the enquiry
So as you can see, the 10 Step Model is a great guide (especially if you read about it fully - remember I just gave a brief overview here as it is not the model we are going to follow). It is a great guide but, for me, it was the cause of a lot of frustration and initial resistance to doing Philosophy for Children. As beginners it was recommended in the Level 1 course that we use the model. The 10 Step Model is great. I am not here to criticise something which clearly works and which gives you a good understanding of what to do, when and why. But what the 10 Step Model did for me, dealing with tiny tots, was confuse me, make me think that P4C was unworkable with small children and, quite frankly, made me feel like I was continually setting both myself and the children up for failure. It was a wasted half hour each week, and even that was after squishing the 10 Step Model so small as to be pointless anyway. If a child doesn’t even understand the difference between opinions, information and questions how can they create their own questions? If it is age appropriate that they are almost entirely egocentric then how can we expect them to care about any other child’s opinion enough to work as a group to come up with a question? While we are at it, how many 4 year olds are capable of instinctively working as a group on a communication and language based task without a heck of a lot of modelling and scaffolding from an adult?
So what happened to change me from a P4C sceptic into someone who liked it enough to attempt to write a book on the subject (how am I doing by the way?)? Basically, what happened was that I had a tantrum. I spat my dummy out, stamped my feet and screamed and screamed till I was sick, or rather I ranted to people about it being ridiculous, knew I had to do it anyway (as we had signed up to several years of P4C as a school) and decided to rebel, spit in the eye of the 10 Step Model and do a half-hearted job of it. In that first session that I decided to do a half-hearted job guess what happened. My Early Years training and experience took the driving seat and lo and behold we had a successful enquiry, despite me feeling a bit guilty that I hadn’t done anything that I was meant to do or anything on my 10 Step Model plan. So I did it again, and again, and before you knew it both myself, the other practitioners in class and the children were actually enjoying doing Philosophy for Children. We had even managed to create our own little routine. Introduce our Philosophy Frog teddy, introduce the stimulus, have a brief reminder of the guidelines for our chat, have a vote, have a chat, job done. Out of this slapdash, partly child-led approach (and isn’t that what Early Years is all about?) we ended up with our own model.
When I went on the Level 2 SAPERE course and read a short section relating to Early Years in the course handbook which practically gave permission to shorten the 10 Step Model I almost cheered and it was that point that I finally decided to trust my own knowledge and experience of an age group I knew very well (thank you very much) to create my own model to use in class. The QUEST!
A quest is a long and arduous search for something, it is a late Middle English word from the Old French queste (noun)/ quester (verb), based on Latin quaerere which meant ‘ask, seek’. Most commonly used as a word for an epic adventure or in a ‘quest for knowledge.’ What better word to describe a philosophical journey? So, I created the QUESTS model to take my class on an epic philosophical journey each week and, even better, do it within the 15 minutes window of time that a 3-5 year old is often able to maintain attention and excitement for an adult led activity.
When I did my Level 1 training, and in the weeks following, I followed what SAPERE call the ’10 Step Model’. What I found was that it was very difficult to do with 3-4 year olds.
understood the 10 Step Model. I understood it was necessary for beginners so that they had a robust plan to follow instead of ending up in random ramblings. The 10 Step Model carefully lays out the start to end process of a philosophical enquiry. The 10 Step Model relies on the participants being at least partly competent in asking and answering questions and able to sit and focus for a long period of time. In other words not 3-5 year olds.
The 10 Step Model is the perfect model for older primary children and secondary children. When it came to Early Years? The 10 Step Model (for me) felt unachievable, unworkable and made me feel like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. It was only when I abandoned the 10 Step Model and, later, when I heard about more flexible approaches in the Level 2 course, that my P4C sessions became fun and effective. For reference here, very briefly, is the 10 Step Model. Even though I don’t find it workable in Early Years it is good to at least keep in mind when planning your own sessions to make sure you stay on track.
The 10 Step Model
This is your preparation and planning. Deciding how you will seat the group, the different parts of your enquiry, the stimulus, mode of decision making or voting, whether you are going to have a starter game and what you want to achieve. This is something which is essential whether following the 10 Step Model or the QUESTS model.
2. Presentation of Stimulus
Book, item, painting, piece of music, video, whatever…
3. Thinking time
Children write down or draw ‘first thoughts’, children respond individually or work in groups, they identify the concepts/big ideas
4. Question -making
Children work in pairs or small groups to come up with their own questions inspired by the stimulus and concepts
Children share their question with the group and explain what they mean by the question and how it relates to the concept or stimulus.
There are many different methods suggested by SAPERE but this is basically the point where the group chooses which of the questions will form the basis of the day’s enquiry. As you can already tell this 10 Step Model is great for older children as it gives a really clear plan however it is also becoming obvious why this is too lengthy a process to keep 3-5 year olds engaged and requires much more complex skills and understanding than this age group are capable of.
7. First Words
This is the first step into the actual enquiry. Now that the question for discussion has been chosen children are invited to offer their first thoughts. A few points are pulled out of this discussion to focus the enquiry around. Imagine getting to step 7 with children aged 3-5. I tried. I failed. Several times.
8. Middle Words
Middle? What? You mean that after all of this we are only just starting at the middle? I won’t go into this too deeply as in this book we are not going to be following the 10 Step Model but for information only, this is the point where the bulk of the discussion takes place. If you are ever going to do P4C with an older group then I do urge you to look at the SAPERE 10 Step Model as you get a lot of useful prompts to make sure your enquiry is a success. It really is a good model. Just not for Early Years.
9. Last Words
Basically a summary with the group on everyone’s final thoughts.
10. Review and Plan
This is the post-session analysis where you evaluate how the enquiry went, the skills demonstrated and what you want to focus on next time.
This is a nice one to end on and, much like metaphysics and ethics, one which sits nicely in the Early Years. Philosophy of aesthetics is all about the arts. It dances through Literacy, Expressive Arts and Design and Physical Development.
It revels in the beauty of life, both the natural world and the man made one. It is all about the creation and appreciation of beauty in all it’s forms and is multisensory. It is equally at home outdoors as you cloud watch, pick up and appreciate autumn leaves, watch a ladybird, wonder at a spider’s web or decide which your favourite flower is; as it is indoors as you listen to music from some of the greatest composers, explore which sort of beat or dance brings you the greatest happiness or most calm and squish your fingers through every texture a typical pre-school messy area has to offer.
Here are some ways to introduce the philosophy of aesthetics to your classroom.
· Look at three famous paintings. Which do you like best and why?
· Listen to different pieces of music. How do they make you feel?
· How and why does music make us feel things?
· Do you like to listen to music with your eyes closed or open?
· What is beauty? It natural beauty or man made beauty the best?
· What is the point of ephemeral art?
· Are sculptures better than paintings because you can feel them?
· Is a painting done by a famous painter more important than a painting done by someone in our class?
· Can maths be beautiful?
This branch of philosophy is about the law, government and justice. With ethical philosophy the questions are mainly based around the person, either actual or imagined, and their behaviour and responsibilities. With political philosophy there is more of a societal view. It looks at how we behave as a society, being governed by laws.
So with ethical philosophy you might wonder if it is right or wrong to steal if you are hungry. With political philosophy you would look at what a ‘fair’ punishment might be if you got caught doing it. This might work well with a superhero theme or police station role play.
Questions could be asked such as;
· Why do we have laws/rules?
· Who should make the laws/rules?
· What should police be allowed to do?
· Is prison right?
· If you break a law/ do something wrong, what could you do to make it better?
· Should the Queen be able to arrest people?
· How do the police know they caught the right person? What if they keep saying “it wasn’t me”?
· Who should decide if someone should be put in jail?
- Who should decide how long they should stay for?
For Early Years practitioners this is the easy peasy one. You already do it every day. For philosophical purposes it is the philosophy of right and wrong, of decisions, of justice and personal responsibility. For our purposes it fits well with Personal, Social and Emotional Development and class rules. It also works well for children who struggle with social understanding, for example some people on the autistic spectrum, and with social stories.
Questions which may be asked include;
- Is it right to smack someone to stop them from hurting someone else?
· Do we have to share?
· What is ‘good’ and ‘bad’/ ‘right’ and ‘wrong’?
· Do humans matter more than animals?
· Do young people matter more than old people?
· Should people fight in wars?
· If someone leaves a toy on the floor and you tripped over it when you were running (but were told not to), is it their fault or your fault that you fell?
· If someone is mean to you is it right to be mean to them?
· What is ‘kind’?
· Do people always know when they need help?
· Can sharks be evil? What does evil mean?
· Why is it ok to kill an animal but not a human?
· Why is it ok to hit an animal with a stick or kick it but not a human? (horse racing)
This branch of philosophy looks at how we can know things are logically correct based on good reasoning. It is a useful branch to tackle things such as fundamentalism or separating fake news from real news. It also helps to prepare pre-teens to navigate the pitfalls of social media.
This branch also works well with mathematics and with reading comprehension (or rather, for our age group, listening to stories, recalling them and being able to infer things from what we have heard and seen). Some questions which may be used in this area are;
· If X and Y say that they saw Z do something does that mean that Z really did that thing?
· How many different ways can you make 6? (This could mean using number bonds, using items, using fingers, using movements, making it from playdough, etc)
· What is a number?
· What happened in this book?
· From looking at the pictures what can you work out about X character? What do you think they would do if… What makes you think that?
· How do you know if someone is telling you the truth?
· Is 2 and 2 more always 4?
· Is 0 the lowest number? Can you take something away from 0? How can you have less than 0 apples?
Epistemology is the philosophy of knowledge and justified belief. It is about how we get knowledge, what knowledge is and how we know that beliefs are justified.
This is not an easy branch of philosophy to build into your practice as the questions are usually very abstract and hard to understand.
Questions might include things like;
· If millions of people believe in something does that make it true/ real? (God, Santa, etc)
· How do I learn things?
· How long have I known I am a boy/girl?
· How long have I known my name?
· Do I know things when I am born?
· When do I know my mum is my mum?
· Do animals know things are real or not real? (people/statues, real grass/fake grass)
· If I believe in something does that make it real?
For our purposes metaphysical ponderings might go down the lines of thinking about how big the universe is, what stars are made of, what is at the edge of space, where whale come from. Any exploration of nature and the physical world we live in could fit in this category. It is ingrained in our exploration of weather, the seasons and nature, along with our own physical existence. These are the big questions of life, the ones too big for even us to comprehend.
In relation to the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework these questions link well with Understanding the World . You will often find yourself instinctively asking these questions when outdoors. A lot of the time, within your normal role, you will be looking for ‘correct’ answers (Where do butterflies come from? They came from a chrysalis. Before that they were a caterpillar and first an egg) but challenge yourself sometimes to throw these rote learning facts out of the window and allow these questions to follow the train of thought of the child and become more philosophical (as a child my mum thought that moths were made from dust).
Here are some metaphysical questions you might want to think about with your children.
· What is nothing?
· How do I know I am real and not a dream?
· What is a dream? What do they mean?
· How did the world begin?
· Am I always thinking?
· Are ghosts real?
· Is there a Heaven? What is Heaven like?
· What is time?
· Are we born good or bad?
· What do you think it would be like to be a bird?
· Do animals dream?
· Do animals think in colour? Do they think in words?
· How can you think if you don’t know words? (babies and animals)
· Do people who have been blind since birth understand colour?
Philosophy for Children draws heavily on the Socratic approach to philosophy so that is what we will look at further. The man, the myth, the legend – Socrates actually did not write any philosophical works himself. What we know of his methods actually comes from the writing of his students, such as Plato. Socrates had a method of enquiry, which he referred to as "elenchus", a cross-examination approach which is now known as the Socratic method. This method basically means questioning and questioning until all possible answers have been eliminated apart from the best one. You know when a child asks ‘Why? But why? But why?’, well this should be evidence enough that a four year old could give Socrates a run for his money.
The Socratic Method looks a little like this;
1. A person makes a statement. You ask them to clarify what they mean. For example, “You should never steal”
2. Ask them for evidence or justification for their opinion “It is wrong to take something that isn’t yours. There is a law against it.”
3. Challenge their assumptions “But sometimes people might need to steal”
4. Find an exception – an example which would mean that the person’s statement isn’t true
“What if your family have had no food for a long time and someone has left the last bits of their picnic while they play on the park?”
5. Ask the person to revise their original argument “So do you still think you should NEVER steal? Or did you mean something else by that?”
6. Continue to raise objections or exceptions until the person reaches the closest to a valid statement that they can get
This method is so simple that it works with children of all ages. In your work as a facilitator keep the two roles of midwife and gadfly in mind as you encourage children to begin to question the world and coax out all of their prior knowledge and experience of being in order to form some ideas and opinions of their own (midwife) but keep on pushing them to think further (gadfly).
Miss Magical Mess is a pre-school teacher and P4C Level 2B facilitator. After a shaky start as a P4C facilitator (P4C with 3 year olds... are you kidding?) Miss Magical Mess created her own approach to P4C and enquiry model and is now a big fan.